Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

CHICAGO There were plenty of feel-good moments in Boston's win at Milwaukee on Saturday. But arguably the most impressive aspect of the victory was that the Celtics' defense limited the always-on-the-run Bucks from going buck wild in transition.

The 15 points given up by the Celtics on fast-break points only tells a part of the story of what was a strong night for their transition defense.

A big part of limiting opponents in transition has to do with cutting down on turnovers, something the Celtics would love to do tonight against the Chicago Bulls.

In Saturday's 96-92 win over the Bucks, the Celtics played a nearly flawless fourth quarter, shooting well over 50 percent from the field without committing a single turnover.

By not turning the ball over, that allows Boston's defense to set itself up which in turn makes it tougher -- a lot tougher -- for opponents to generate points.

"The games that we lost, transition defense has been our Achilles heel," said Celtics guard Jason Terry. "(Saturday) we made it a point. For the most part, we were able to control our turnovers."

Boston will not have an easy time continuing that trend of limiting turnovers against a Bulls team that has been among the NBA's best squads defensively under former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have been especially strong in forcing turnovers this season, with opponents coughing it up 16.7 times a game which ranks seventh in the league.

But the C's come into tonight's game with the confidence that comes about from having seen tangible growth in what has been one of their greatest weaknesses - transition defense.

And to do it against a Bucks team with such dynamic open court scorers like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, only adds to that positive vibes they are feeling right now.

"If you can stop it against (Milwaukee), you can do it against anybody," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "This team is as good as you're going to find, this and Miami, at just breaking you down with multiple players."

Transition defense is just one of the many concerns Boston has heading into tonight's game against the Bulls. Here are a few other keys to the game as the Celtics try and snap

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Rajon Rondo has been shredding defenses apart all season with an array of pin-point passes resulting in double-digit assists every game. He's the primary reason why the Celtics rank among the top-five this season in assists per game. But the Bulls have made it tough on opponents when it comes to getting assists. In fact, they are only giving up 19.8 per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah. There's no love lost between these two, which only adds more intrigue and suspense to this matchup between two of the better teams in the East.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green had a breakout game at Milwaukee on Saturday with 12 points and strong play defensively. It'll be interesting to see if he can build off of that performance or whether he'll return to Struggelesville, which he has called home for most of this year.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has had its share of problems limiting opponents scoring in the paint. They currently rank 27th in the league with foes churning out 45.7 points in the paint per game. The Bulls may be just what the Celtics need right now. Chicago comes into tonight's game among the NBA's worst at scoring around the basket. The C's would do themselves a world of good in keeping the Bulls around their 38 points-in-the-paint per game average which ranks No. 23 in the NBA.

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays…

1) Toronto’s offense can never be taken lightly.

Coming into the series, the Blue Jays had scored 197 runs, putting them in the middle of the pack among all Major League teams and averaging four runs per game. In the two games against Boston, they’ve scored 17 runs.

So an offense that had appeared to be dormant has been woken up thanks to some subpar Red Sox pitching.

It seems like these two teams are very similar and could be in opposite positions just as easily. The Blue Jays are only three behind in the win column (five in the loss), so Boston needs to win David Price’s Sunday start to widen the gap and cut their three-game skid.

2) Craig Kimbrel is only effective for so long.

Boston’s closer wasn’t giving excuses following Saturday’s game -- and this isn’t one either.

Saturday’s 39-pitch performance wasn’t just his season-high, but his career high in pitches.

This not only resulted in a drop in Kimbrel’s velocity, but it exposed flaws in the Red Sox’ pen. Kimbrel is truly a one-inning guy, so if Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara can’t get him the ball, he’s useless.

And it seems like Uehara won’t be used on back-to-back days frequently in the near future, so Boston won’t be able to use Tazawa in a seventh inning role with much consistency.

Somewhere along the way Dave Dombrowski will need to find another reliever for the back-end of the bullpen.

3) Offense can only take a team so far.

Both teams had big offensive days, in large part because pitchers from both sides made a lot of mistakes -- but they still took advantage of them.

Had the Red Sox been the home team in this contest, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have won -- just based on the progression of the game and ignoring any statistical splits.

If the Red Sox are serious about making the postseason, they need pitching to pick up the slack once in a while. Because when they hit the road late in the year, games like will slip away when quality pitching is lacking.

Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

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Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays:
 
QUOTES
*“We’ve seen Hanley [Ramirez] catch that ball multiple times...An unfortunate situation at a key moment.” John Farrell said of the final play of the game.
 
*As soon as I let it go I thought he was out...I feel like that game kind of slipped away from us.” -Travis Shaw said of his throw in the final play of the game.
 
*“Everybody was so excited on the bench. We’d lost the lead and to have him come through in that situation . . . It was huge.” -Hanley Ramirez on David Ortiz’s go-ahead homerun in the ninth inning.
 
*“We’re a strike away on a number of occasions . . . you watch the attack plan all day long right-handers with curveballs were having success against [Justin] Smoak.” -Farrell said of the bullpen’s performance and Smoak’s ninth inning hit off Craig Kimbrel.
 
*“If he makes an accurate throw he’s out.” -Farrell on Christian Vazquez’s errant throw in the ninth inning.
 
*“In some key spots we gave an extra 90 feet when otherwise we have not of late.” -Farrell said about Boston’s inability to execute late in the game.

NOTES
*Xander Bogaerts has hit safely in his last 21 games, extending his streak with a home run to lead off the fourth inning. He’s hitting .402 with five home runs during the streak. Bogaerts logged his ninth three-hit game of 2016.
 
* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to five games with his first-inning double. Pedroia has also hit safely in his past 22 games against Toronto. He’s hitting .444 during the short streak.
 
*David Ortiz extended his own hitting streak to six games with a double in the fourth. He's hitting .520 over that span.
 
* Russell Martin logged his fifth multi-hit game of the season -- and first three-hit game -- smacking a double and a home run. Martin entered the game batting .179 with three extra-base hits.
 
 
STARS
1) Russell Martin

Not only did he score the winning run, but he also tied the score in the ninth and launched a home run earlier in the game.
 
2) Xander Bogaerts
Another threre-hit performance, extending his hitting streak to 21 games, Bogaerts keeps creating headaches for opposing pitchers.
 
3) Rick Porcello
On a day where pitchers from both side scuffled, Porcello’s 6 2/3-inning effort gave Boston more than enough of a chance to win. 

First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

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First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

First impressions of the Red Sox' 10-9 loss in Toronto:
 
Rick Porcello was back in top form.

Despite the matchup at the Rogers Center being less than favorable for Porcello, and the righty not at his best of late, he held a streaking, dangerous offense at bay for 6 2/3 innings (four runs, seven hits) before the bullpen coughed up two leads. 

While Porcello hasn’t performed poorly of late, there’s no question he hasn’t been at his best -- so it’s good to see him have a consistent feel for his pitches.

The bullpen might be in trouble Sunday.

With Junichi Tazawa struggling, Craig Kimbrel throwing a season high 39 pitches and Matt Barnes pitching in both games this series, the bullpen won’t be at it’s best for the final game in Toronto. So, if there were ever a time for David Price to throw like a true ace, Sunday would be it.

Tommy Layne proves again that he’s not trustworthy.

With a four-run lead, and only needing to get two batters out, Layne couldn't get an out in the eighth, allowing two runs on two hits and starting something not even Kimbrel (who gave up leads in the eighth and ninth after being called on for a five-out save) could stop. The lefty specialist may have entered the game with an ERA below 3.00, but his results are inconsistent.
 
Umpire Mike DiMuro’s injury changed the tone of the game.

The home plate umpire took a hard foul ball off the center of the mask, delaying the game for several minutes and forcing Brian Gorman to call the game behind the plate.

And with that came an inconsistent strike zone. Both sides were frustrated by his inconsistency with his zone. Porcello had two pitches stopped due to late timeout calls. Marcus Stroman was almost allowed to quick pitch Hanley Ramirez twice in the same at-bat.

The crew got it right removing DiMuro from the game, but Gorman was bad in relief.
 
David Ortiz getting doubled up in the fourth inning can’t happen.

Darwin Barney showed some range, getting to Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s soft line drive up the middle, flipping the ball to second quickly after to get Ortiz. This comes a night after Hanley Ramirez got double up off a screaming line drive.

There’s a difference between the two though. Ramirez had no time to react. Ortiz had all the time in the world. Even though Papi’s speed hasn’t become enhanced in his old age -- unlike his power -- that was a rally-killing play he could’ve prevented.
 
Don’t sleep on Dustin Pedroia.

Between Ortiz’s farewell tour and the youth rising, Dustin Pedroia continues to perform well under the radar.

He went 2-for-4, lacing two doubles off Toronto’s ace, Marcus Stroman. Pedroia is hitting .309. He’s not the only player being overlooked, but he’s definitely received the least amount of attention in Boston’s power-packed lineup.